"Banshee" interview with Tom Pelphrey

Foto: Tom Pelphrey
Tom Pelphrey

March 26, 2015 | Tom Pelphrey joined the compelling action drama "Banshee" in season 3 and took the Fanshees' hearts by storm. And that speaks volumes about Pelphrey as an actor considering his character Kurt Bunker is covered in neo-nazi tattoos. Tom Pelphrey kindly made time to talk to us in detail about what Bunkers strengths and weaknesses are and how he fits in with the other inhabitants of Banshee. He also talks about shooting the unforgettable episode #3.05 Tribal. And Pelphrey might be the new guy in the world of "Banshee" but it's clear he's deeply invested in his character and the show. He might even be a Fanshee himself.

German translation of the interview.

Note: © myFanbase 2015 - The interview is exclusive to myFanbase and may not be published on other websites or the like. You may share the first two questions (up to 180 words) if you link back to this site. Translations other than English and German may be posted with full credit including the link to this site.

Bunker quickly and in a way suprisingly turned into one of the new "Banshee" fan favorites. What do you think was the key scene for that, and what makes this character so interesting?

I think that we certainly got to know Bunker a lot better in Episode 5... particularly with the scene in the basement. I think what makes this character so interesting is partly what makes all of the characters in Banshee so interesting: their duality. Most of the main characters in Banshee are being torn two completely different ways. Proctor wants the love of his parents and seeks forgiveness and acceptance; at the same time he runs his business ruthlessly, kills people and craves power. Hood is pulled toward his old self as a thief and a renegade gypsy who is chasing 'the big score'; on the other hand he is also pulled toward being the sheriff of a small town, enforcing the law, and having stability to be there for his daughter. Thief/Sheriff: very polar opposites. As for Bunker: well I'm not sure how much more duality you can get than an ex neo-nazi who is literally covered in swastikas and hateful images with a violent, criminal past who now wants to be a deputy, serve the people and uphold the law. I think this principle of characters constantly being pulled in two very different directions makes this show so dynamic and the characters so interesting. At the end of the day it seems to me that they are all seeking some form of redemption. I think people can identify with that. I know I can.

A former neo-Nazi, who tries to reintegrate into society becoming part of the Sheriff's Department of Banshee. How did you prepare yourself for this complex role?

Well in a few different ways. Most importantly I try and figure out what's really going on for the guy deep down in simple terms. To be very general I think Bunker "feels deep shame and therefore seeks forgiveness". There are a million different ways to seek forgiveness, and when I read the scripts and work on the scenes I try and find different ways to do so. I also think that Bunker is aware of his effect on people and aware of how to intimidate. The tattoos obviously speak to that… but to go along with the tattoos I thought I should get as big as possible physically. So I started lifting weights often and in earnest to achieve as much size as I could. :) Going into this role I didn't know much at all about the neo-nazi movement in America… so I read a few books that were recommended by my friend who is a writer. He had used them himself for research in the past. Basically you're always trying to get your body and mind in line with the character and further away from your own natural rythyms… especially when the character is as different as this.

Do you think Bunker kind of uses the Sheriff's Department as a new family and at the same time as a kind of protection? On his mission to destroy the brotherhood he will probably need some support. Is this the reason why he applied for the job?

That's a great question. Absolutely I believe he uses the department as his new family. I don't think he is using them for protection… I think that on some level Bunker is so disgusted with himself he wouldn't care if someone killed him tomorrow. I DO agree that in order to take down the brotherhood he will need help… and I certainly think that was part of his motivation in applying for the job.

In his first scene Bunker says removing the tattoos took longer than he expected. But at least the one on his face should be removable quickly. Why could he be deliberately keeping them?

That's one that I've wondered about myself quite a lot. I think it's a form of self-flagellation. It's the Scarlett Letter. I think it is very embarrassing to him the way that people look at him because of it. I think it shames him every time he looks in the mirror. And I think that Bunker wants that punishment… I think he feels that he needs to earn his redemption through pain and suffering.

In a few scenes we got to know the first bits and pieces about Bunker's past. Violence, hate, longing to belong. What do you think drives Bunker most now?

The desire for forgiveness. Redemption. The overwhelming need to achieve some kind of piece of mind. When you are the kind of person that would go so far as to cover your body in all of those hateful images you are operating on some level from a place of great pain. So even when that person decides that they want to turn their life around and change, all of those very powerful emotions don't just go away. I think Bunker is trying his best to channel them into something constructive… be a police officer. Take down the brotherhood. Correct his mistakes:: as much as that is possible anyway.

"You're hired!" Hood said and everyone's jaw dropped! Hood and Bunker seem similar in the way they carry their guilt. Do you think there are more similarities and also striking differences between those twi characters?

Hahaha I may have inadvertently answered this question already! I think there are SO MANY similarities. I think that's why Hood decided to give Bunker a chance. I think Hood recognized another person wearing the figurative hair shirt.

Foto: Tom Pelphrey
Tom Pelphrey

Bunker was a big part of 3x05 Tribal, the bottle episode, in which everything happend in and around the Cadi. Can you talk a little bit about working on that episode? What were the challenges in creating this level of intensity?

I believe I'm correct in saying that the filming of episode 5 took longer than any other episode that they had filmed. There was obviously an INSANE amount of gun fire which obviously posed a few challenges. I know the FX team was setting up in the Cadi almost two weeks out so that they could rig all of the squibs needed for the opening shot of the Redbones lighting the Cadi up. We had to get that shot in one take!! Let me tell you that when there are that many mini-explosions going off around you… sparks flying, glass breaking, and the ceiling literally falling down on your head:: there is no acting required!! We rehearsed over and over and over again which I am glad for. Once everything started to blow up my heart was racing and all of my adrenaline kicked in. I really feel that Banshee does sequences like this better than any other show on television… and it takes a whole TEAM of people working very hard for a very long time to make it all work, and make it all look so good. By the end I think everyone was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic… especially when we were shooting in the basement hallway where Bunker talks to Medding. It was incredibly orchestrated by O.C. Madsen, our director for that episode. He was an amazing captain on that ship and he had A LOT of balls to juggle. In the end his finished product really spoke volumes for itself.

The brawl not using the barbeque fork, the confessional moment with Brock, the younger brother Calvin and blowtorch - you had some incredible material this season. Which of these scenes were you most excited about?

I really did have some incredible material this season. I'm very grateful to the writers for that. As we all know it isn't always the case. :) I think the scene that I was most excited about exploring was the scene with Brock. It was actually one of my audition scenes so it had been floating around in my mind for quite some time by the time we actually filmed it. Just such great turmoil and conflict that most characters don't often get to express… but because of the heightened circumstances Bunker does. Also Matt Servitto is the definition of a Pro in every way. One of the most generous acting partners I've ever had for sure. And I LOVED the way he played it. Such a nice contrast to what was going on with Bunker. Who the hell else besides Matt finds a way to have some believable comedy in that scene?? Again, PERFECT Banshee. High stakes and stark duality.

The Fanshees are an incredibly passionate fandom and we so much appreciate you guys being on Twitter every week for the episodes. How do you experience the interaction with cast and fans on social media?

It's pretty amazing to be a part of! I'm new to Twitter so I've still been trying to get the hang of it. I'm still not sure what exactly is the purpose of a hashtag but I know there is one. :) As an actor part of what you really really desire is to SHARE the story you are trying to tell, otherwise everyone would just act for themselves in the shower!! When you're on stage you share with your audience every night. You often don't really have the luxury of any feedback or shared experience' with film and television. So the live tweeting becomes a way of sharing the story with each other and a way of showing appreciation both ways. Without the fans none of us has a job! I was skeptical at first and had no idea what to expect from the experience:: then it became something I really looked forward to doing. The amount of passion and dedication to the show is pretty damn awesome. It's nice to be a part of it.

You work in theater a lot and you won two Daytime Emmys. Which character you ever played, was the hardest work? And which one had the most influence on you?

I think the hardest one ever was playing "Woyzeck" in college at Rutgers. The stakes are through the roof, the character is losing his mind, the play is completely relentless, and it's all STYLIZED. hahaha. I was too young I think… I would love another crack at that one. Bunker has been an exciting challenge for me because he is very different in many ways from who I am. It's interesting; every role ends up having a lot of influence on you while you're doing it. I'm not talking about being "method" or anything like that… it's just that I think actors on the whole, if they're good, are very susceptible people. And so the energy and dynamics of the character you are playing start to rub off on you. It's a beautiful thing in a way because life never gets boring! hahahaha

Since myFanbase is an online magazine about tv shows, we would like to know what your favorite shows are?

I loved "Breaking Bad". I love watching "Mad Men" and "House of Cards" and "Game of Thrones". Also I really love watching "Banshee". :) As my brother says to me, "I would totally watch this show and love it even if you weren't on it". An incredible TV show that I would recommend everyone to watch is "Rectify" on Sundance. Slow and beautiful and wonderfully surprising and human.

Thank you for making time for us, Tom, we wish you all the best for your future!

Thank you so much!! I appreciate you asking me!

Nicole Oebel & Nicola Porschen - myFanbase